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Saturday 2 April 2022

‘The Fatal Oath’ by Michael L. Lewis

Published by Book Guild Publishing,
28 March 2022.
ISBN: 978-1-9144712-8 7 (PB)

‘Jonathan Simon arrived a day early for the autumn term at Blackleigh….
the elite boarding school for boys.’

Jonathan Simon is now in his third year at Blackleigh School.  He hopes that the next academic year will be less traumatic than the first two he spent at the prestigious but spartan establishment.  At least his seniority now entitles him to a shared study, and he wonders who he will be paired with.  It happens that his companion will be sixteen-year-old student Robert, ‘Bobby, Stuart, newly arrived from the United States.  Like Jonathan before him, the American is unprepared for the harsh and sometimes bizarre school traditions.  At Blackleigh, the prefects, rather than teachers, enforce discipline.  It is a custom that has been entrenched over many years and is intended to teach responsibility and leadership skills.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way, some prefects delight in wielding power over and even abusing other students.  The potential for such mean behaviour is aided by another traditional Blackleigh commandment: thou shalt not “snitch.”

Hope may spring eternal, but not at Blackleigh.  Even though last term’s more sadistic prefects have left, there is no shortage of volunteers eager to follow in their predecessors’ footsteps.  Three of the most callous, Hausman, Gabriel and Murray, have formed a particularly odious following called “The Black Armbands.”  Hausman emerges as the vitriolic leader as he and his confederates encourage their devotees to discriminate against students they perceive to be “outsiders” by virtue of religion or ethnicity.  The ferocity with which the thuggish gang pursue those deemed to be “different” has deadly consequences.

The Fatal Oath provides a shocking interrogation of how the archaic customs that prevail in an insular community like Blackleigh, foster a sense of entitlement that arises from birth and wealth.  The novel explores how racism and misogyny that prevailed during the late 1950s was the norm in certain settings.  However, the book also suggests that redemption is always possible.  The plot unfolds through the language of the boys as they mature into young men.  Not all progress towards adulthood is at the same pace, and not all have positive role models who help them through what is often a painful and unhappy transition.  Indeed, as the story shows, bad boy bullies are often far more fearful and vulnerable than their victims.

As in the first two books of the Oath series, the teaching staff prove to be ineffectual, easily manipulated by the bad boys or simply absent.  Be prepared for sexual encounters, scurrilous behaviour and violent episodes as The Fatal Oath reveals the horror of life at single sex school when the boys are left to their own devices!
Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Michael L. Lewis was born and raised in England. After preparatory school in London, he was educated at Stowe School, Buckingham. Michael says, "My novel takes the reader on a journey through the lives of three dynamic schoolboys between the ages of 13 and 15, and the extraordinary triumphs and tragedies that they experience." This book is the second in a series. Michael now lives in Los Angeles, California, has a law degree, and writes full-time. He was on the Board of Trustees for several schools and has been a member of the same book club for twenty-five years.

Dot Marshall-Gent
worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.

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